After assorted challenges, I’ve finally been back on the move this weekend, but with no firm plan beyond where I wanted to end up today. The Caldon has a stoppage beginning tomorrow and I wanted to get past that, back onto the Trent & Mersey.

I’m writing this on the 29th January and my boating plans have already changed multiple times, for multiple reasons. When I came onto the Caldon before Christmas, I was expecting it to close the weekend after New Year, so I’d only be on it for a little over a week. That was then cancelled at the last moment, so I decided that I wasn’t going to rush and would spend an extra few weeks in the area.

After a fortnight at Endon, I had planned to move to the edge of Leek. Unfortunately I couldn’t start the engine. I’d been battery charging with a small generator while I was moored, so I initially thought the engine starter battery had gone flat though a combination of cold and lack of use. I soon ruled that out along with all the other things that I know can stop the engine from firing. After I had run out of ideas, I called my good friend Dave, who kindly came to visit on the following Sunday afternoon.

Disassembled engine, 15th January 2023
Disassembled engine, 15th January

The answer was something I’d certainly never seen before, water had got inside the engine via the air intake. I still don’t know how, but it was everywhere we looked. We cleaned and dried it all out and Dave very gently ran her to be sure it was working. Perhaps still a little early to say that there is no longer term damage, but I think I’ve got away with it – rust inside the engine would be VERY bad news.

By the following weekend (and an oil and filter change) she was running normally and I was finally ready to move. I’d been emailed by CRT about overstaying in Endon (I’d been there 3 weeks by this point) so replied, explaining the problem. I never heard back so I presume that they were OK with this. That’s the second time in a year I’ve written to CRT and not had the courtesy of a reply.

Unfortunately another winter hazard – bad weather – intervened. I was iced in for over a week, and even by the time I finally moved yesterday, there was a thin layer on the surface.

Ice near to Stockton Brook locks, 28th January 2023
Ice near to Stockton Brook locks, 28th January

The move this weekend was primarily to get the boat past a stoppage that starts tomorrow. That one is due to run well into March, but I need the boat to be somewhere else well before that so getting away was important.

An occupational hazard in the “stoppage season” (November to March) is waterway closures that change at very short notice. The cancellation on the Caldon was beneficial to me personally, but I’ve just read that another stoppage, on the Shropshire Union, is being extended, which now has me scratching my head. This one is a real pain as there is no new reopening date and I really needed to go through the stoppage on the day it reopened, in order to get the boat to where I hoped to leave it while I go Interrailing 3 days later.

2023 stoppages

Thankfully in 2 months time everything will be open and I will be free to go wherever I want to (apart from the far end of the Caldon, but that’s another story.)

Around October I’d started to think about what I might want to do this year. An interesting idea had come up a couple of months earlier, which would have involved moving the boat by road to a disconnected waterway, but it has fallen though for this year (and probably next) so I started making couple of lists, of things I need to do, and of things I’d like to do in ’23:

  • Sort out the water system problems. This became more important when a new fault cropped up a few weeks ago, but there are jobs I’ve wanted to have done for a few years.
  • Fit the new alternator. This is one of the reasons I want to head up the Shroppie, there are assorted electrical jobs wrapped around this, so mooring at Dave’s makes sense.
  • Replace the pigeon box above the engine room. It is slowly disintegrating, but after over 30 years use I probably shouldn’t complain.
  • Fix the leaking windows in the main cabin. The decorative slot windows are a real feature of the boat but are a nightmare to maintain. Steel, wood and glass next to each other are not a good combination for maintaining water-tightness.
  • Repaint the cabin, roof and hatches. It’s not been done for nearly 7 years and is looking very tired.
  • Repaint inside the cabins. This hasn’t been done for even longer than when I last did the outside, I’m not even sure what year it was. Painting inside a both that you live on is something of a logistical challenge. you can’t exactly clear the furniture out to another room!
  • Survey the hull. This was primarily about making sure there would be no nasty surprises if I put the boat onto a lorry and took her somewhere that there was literally no support if anything went wrong. Not essential this year but I would like to do it.

That all sounds like a couple of months in a boatyard might be the right move, but there is also a boating fun list. I have some travel plans that don’t involve boating in March and April, but am still thinking about places I’d like to go boating after that. These are initial ideas. How many of them I achieve remains to be seen.

  • The River Weaver. Always high on my list, but I didn’t get there last autumn and it is likely that the Boat Lift will be closed all through 2024 so a visit in June and/or September would be good (they’re the best months on the river.)
  • Huddersfield. I’ve been saying I’d like to do a less rushed return visit ever since I first went there in the Pennine Explorer convoy.
  • Liverpool. I got as far as Burscough a couple of years ago and very much enjoyed it. A trip along the Link into the docks would be a first for me.
  • The Erewash. I’ve never done this canal on any boat and everyone tells me I should. While I’m that way I would also go through Nottingham and down the Trent, which I’ve also never done beyond the first river lock (and that was in 1974.)
  • The Thames and Wey. These were planned for 2022, until my accident. I’m not sure going south 2 years in a row is the right move though. I might save them and go back through London and on to the Stort, which I also missed out on doing, in another year or two instead.

So lots of thinking to do over the coming weeks, some of it before I next move the boat.

The run from Endon was eased by a surprising number of boats heading the other way, evidently keen to be locked in by the stoppage for a couple of months.

I made it as far as Milton yesterday, then Andy and Nicola joined me today for a very pleasant run though the city, where we even had some sunshine. The Caldon was only open in full for about six weeks last year, due to stoppages and water shortages, and the lack of use really shows. We dragged the bottom most of the way, to the extent that I thought there was still an engine problem, but the moment we hit the Trent & Mersey, she was back to normal.

Andy steering down Stoke Locks, 29th January 2023
Andy steering down Stoke Locks, 29th January

I’m now moored by the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston. I will probably not now move until the back end of next week, by which time I’ll need water. Hopefully by then I’ll have a better feel for how the next month or so is going to look, so can decide whether to continue to Stone or go back to Etruria, which are the nearest tap locations.